The Committee to Protect Journalists released its yearly report on press freedom around the world. It looks at violence and murders of reporters, and whether those cases are prosecuted or not by authorities. For the fifth straight year, Iraq was ranked the worst country in the world in terms of protecting the media.
In 2008, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) started releasing its Impunity Index that ranks countries on whether reporters are protected or not by their governments. For the fifth straight year Iraq was ranked the most dangerous place for journalists around the world. Since 2003 there have been 93 unsolved murders of members of the press. None of the cases have been solved, and no one has ever been punished. The CPJ noted that the number of deaths has gone down since the heyday of the sectarian civil war, which lasted from 2005-2008. In 2011 for instance, there was only one death, Hadi al-Mahdi. He was a radio host who criticized the government and was participating in protests that broke out at the beginning of that year. In February 2011, he was picked up in Baghdad at a café after demonstrating, taken to a camp run by the 11th Army Division, interrogated, beaten, faced electric shock, and threatened with rape. That didn’t stop his work at the radio station, and he received daily death threats until he was murdered in his home in Baghdad. That compared to four journalists who were killed in 2010. It’s the accumulation of cases over several years however that placed Iraq at the bottom of the CPJ report.
|Activist and radio host Hadi Al-Mahdi was murdered in his home in Baghdad in 2011 (BBC)|
On the Impunity Index, Iraq ranked almost three times as bad as the number two country on the list. Iraq had a rating of 2.906, which represented the number of unsolved murders per million inhabitants of the nation. That was a slight improvement from 2010 when it had a rank of 2.921. In second place was Somalia with 1.1813, showing that Iraq was a far worse place for the safety of the media. After that was the Philippines at 0.589, Sri Lanka at 0.431, Colombia with a score of 0.173, Nepal at 0.167, Afghanistan with a 0.145, Mexico at 0.132, Russia at 0.113, and Pakistan rounding out the top ten with a 0.109. Many of those countries have gone through civil wars, insurgencies, or narco-trafficking in the last several years, but they have no where near the number of unsolved cases against journalists as Iraq. That’s a strong sign that the Iraqi security forces are not seriously looking into these cases, and that the judiciary is not pushing to investigate or prosecute them either.
The dramatic decline in journalists’ deaths in Iraq should be a positive sign for the country. Unfortunately the authorities are still trying to establish their relationship with the media. It is common for reporters to be sued by politicians for libel if they publish a critical article. Some issues are considered off limits, because journalists fear that they may be arrested or attacked if they discuss them. During the protests that broke out at the beginning of the year, many media outlets were also assaulted. The fall of Saddam Hussein has opened up a plethora of newspapers and magazines, some of which are directly run by political parties, while some are independent. That range of choices offers Iraqis a wide range of opinions to read. Their ability to report on what they want is not fully protected however, as the number of unsolved murders of journalists shows, plus the common attacks upon them, both violent and legal. The government has yet to decide how much press freedom it will allow, and how much protection it will give the institution. That will mean more insecurity for the foreseeable future until all of these issues are played out.
Amnesty International, “Days Of Rage, Protests and Repression In Iraq,” April 2011
Committee to Protect Journalists, “Getting Away With Murder,” 6/1/11